How to deal with grief and loneliness during the holiday season

· Dec. 24, 2023, 4:00 am
(Jessica Lewis/Pexels)

Coloradans aren’t exempt from winter doldrums, even with picturesque views and bustling slopes to explore. The holidays can feel particularly isolating and depressing at times for those dealing with grief and loneliness. 

“It's the time of year where there seems to be a societal expectation that we are all joyous and celebrating,” said Micki Burns, chief clinical officer at Aurora-based bereavement center Judi’s House. “So when you're grieving and bereaved, it's often hard to be able to join into that collective spirit, so to speak.”

Emotions related to grief aren’t just caused by a death in the family, according to Burns. She said any kind of loss — like drastically changing one’s living situation — can cause grief. And because of the wide spectrum of the emotion, everyone’s coping and healing mechanisms are different. 

Burns said the first step to deal with grief during the holidays is to think about your personal needs and what you would like to see in the moment. Grief doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all bandage.

“Even within a family, what one person wants and another can vary very much,” she said. 

Burns said one way she advises clients to process grief is to find ways to memorialize those they lost. 

“We encourage families who want to honor and memorialize the person who died to share memories to include them or aspects of them and the traditions that they have. Watch videos, eat their favorite foods, have their photos on display, visit the cemetery, maybe even doing something in honor of them. So giving back to the community in some way, taking on some sort of volunteer project."

— Micki Burns, chief clinical officer at Judi’s House, A bereavement center

Some people’s grief may manifest through feelings of loneliness. Stevi Ibonie, a PhD candidate at the University of Colorado, researches social relationships and how they impact mental health. She said feelings of loneliness may be exacerbated during the holidays, when families traditionally get together for celebrations. 

Ibonie said those who feel lonely should take advantage of modern technology that has made it easier for people to connect with their communities. 

“You can even sort of sync up and ask them if they want to make a recipe with you on video call and make it together to try and keep those bonds strong, even when there's distance or play games together remotely,” she said.

Getting offline is important, too. Ibonie recommends hitting the outdoors for a hike or just sitting at a park, which can boost mental health. 

Ibonie added that the onus for dealing with loneliness and grief shouldn’t fall entirely on those experiencing the emotions. She said community members should look out for each other and extend a hand to people struggling to find connections. 

“If you have a friend or somebody and you notice that they might not have somewhere to go for the holiday season, send them a text message, reach out, give them a phone call. See if there's anything that you can do to support them during that time, and just know that they might really appreciate that."

— Stevi Ibonie, social relationships & mental health researcher

Both Burns and Ibonie recommend keeping an eye out for community events and support groups that allow people to collectively address difficult feelings. For those in the metro Denver area, the LIGHT Movement is holding a “Night to Illuminate Grief” at the First Plymouth Congregational Church in Englewood.

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